As pointed out in previous blogs, children and adults who have Down syndrome are contributing members of our society. They are essential members of families and communities; they are beautiful people. We have come a long way from the 1950s, when Billy was born. During this decade an estimated half a million of children born with Down syndrome were institutionalized, often under abusive and degrading circumstances. We have come a long way. And yet . . .
Since 2007 it has been recommended by the professional organizations representing obstetricians and gynecologists in the United States and Canada that all pregnant women be offered prenatal screening for Down syndrome. ALL pregnant women. Prenatal screening tests are now well on their way to being standard of care. Insurance companies are covering them. And since Down syndrome is not a condition that can be repaired in utero, it must be fairly assumed that the purpose of this testing is to allow – and urge – women to terminate their pregnancies, which is what has been happening about 90 percent of the time when Down syndrome is diagnosed prenatally. (Bauer, 2004)
Genetic testing pushes hot-button issues: abortion, embryo destruction and worries about eugenics – selective breeding to rid a population of unwanted traits. Yet it is touching a growing number of people. It is well known that as maternal age advances, the risk of Down syndrome increases. Pregnant women 35 years of age or older have for some time been routinely offered amniocentesis.The combination of maternal age and elevated serum alphafetoprotein (AFP) appear to be more efficient than either alone. However, such testing and predictions are far from perfect.
To be or not to be – what a question! In future blogs we will discuss the issues surrounding prenatal testing and explore other alternatives. Please join the discussion.